Review Summary: Torch of the Mystics is the Girls' most accessible album, a magnificently warped and corroded "pop" record. An absolute classic.
In any decade, there exist an elite handful of artists who are indelibly married to a certain point in space-time, who perfectly capture the Zeitgeist and are etched eternally into the collective consciousness. It stands to reason, then, that there would exist an opposite, a group of artists who instead represent the spirit of no time in particular, existing in that most-inhospitable region somewhere outside the realm of easy categorization.
Sun City Girls are of the latter variety, having spent 25 years courting bewilderment from most anyone within earshot of their ramshackle sound. The band, comprised of brothers Rick & Alan Bishop and friend Charlie Gocher, didn't create music so much as channel it, conducting sonic exorcisms and conjuring ghosts to dance atop the skeletons of punk rock, free jazz, psychedelia, Eastern music, drone and myriad other influences.
Torch of the Mystics is the Girls' most accessible album, a magnificently warped and corroded "pop" record that decreases the dosage of Dada-laced insanity and, in doing so, makes it exponentially more potent. Blue Mambo opens with one of the Girls' most memorable riffs, which is promptly set ablaze and sent ceremoniously into the ether, leaving in its wake it a wave of technicolor contrails spiraling upward amidst ethereal layered vocals.
If that riff eventually comes back down to Earth, it doesn't stay there for long. On the album's centerpiece, the transcendent Space Prophet Dogon, the band craft a monstrous-yet-benevolent apparition, a seven minute garage raga floating on drones of distortion and drifting with abandon straight into the whistled melody of The Shining Path, a gorgeous folk song written at the altar of Ennio Morricone.
Other highlights include the warbling, sun-damaged surf dirge of Radar 1941 and the brief but lovely Eastern din of The Vinegar Stroke. On paper, it sounds like a mess, but all of the disparate influences here are unified by an overarching sound that is distinctly Sun City Girls.
There is an opposite to the aforementioned Zeitgeist, known as the Volksgeist, or the "spirit of the people". The music on Torch, as with everything else in the massive SCG catalog, encompasses this idea perfectly. It is the spirit of Rick, Alan and Charlie, and it simply couldn't have been created by any other assemblage of artists. Their uncompromising musical vision remains as vital and timeless now as it was 25 years ago because, thankfully, SCG never tried to represent anything other than themselves. An absolute classic.